There is a city in the Southern hills of Vietnam where honeymooners travel each year to affirm their love at high altitude, breathing in the alpine air and soaking in the legacies of French colonialism. Developed by the French in the nineteenth century, Dalat remains a contemporary tourist destination fully equipped with a "Valley of Love", an artificial lake with paddleboats, and cowboys. It is also the subject of Eric Jennings
' Imperial Heights: Dalat and the Making and Undoing of French Indochina
(University of California Press, 2011).
In his impressive study, Jennings explores more than one hundred years in the history of this colonial and now postcolonial city. Over the course of fourteen chapters, the book examines issues of space and place; disease and health; colonial violence and injustice; culture and leisure; the impacts of war, race and ethnicity, class, gender, memory, and nostalgia.
Using Dalat's past and present as a way into some of the deep contradictions and anxieties of French colonialism, the book is a stunning examination of a unique local context with broader implications for how we think empire and "Frenchness" together. Along the way, Jennings tells a series of fascinating stories, narratives of scientific debate and discovery; of murder and exploitation; of physical illness and recovery; and the attempt to create a French "home away from home" in the colonial mountains.
Grounded in hitherto unexplored archival material, Imperial Heights
opens up critical questions regarding the tensions and legacies of a French Indochina that was first made and then undone.